Tewkesbury and the English Civil War
To refer to Gloucester for a moment. Even before hostilities broke out in 1642 Gloucester was garrisoned for the Parliament, the trained bands were called out, a volunteer force was raised, stores were laid in and work began on strengthening the defences. In September 1642 a force was sent from the city of Gloucester to garrison Tewkesbury, and although it left after a short time, it had collected contributions to the value of £500.
As to the conditions around Tewkesbury in 1642, Sir Robert Cooke of Highnam was commissioned as a colonel in the Parliamentary army, and yet his eldest son, William Cooke, was a Royalist. This division of loyalties within a family was not uncommon during the Civil War. All towns had their Royalist and Parliamentary sympathisers, but by and large Worcestershire to the north was Royalist, while to the south Gloucester was very strong for the parliament. Yet Gloucestershire itself was divided; a few miles east, Sudeley Castle, the seat of George Bridges, Lord Chandos (the Royalist Lord Lieutenant) was garrisoned for the King. After the raising of the royal standard at Nottingham, Charles I with the principal Royalist field army advanced very slowly south-west to Shrewsbury, building up the strength of his army as he marched. In the meantime the Parliamentary Lord General, the Earl of Essex, left London and marched his army on Worcester. Colonel Nathaniel Rennes was sent ahead to secure that city, but he had the misfortune to encounter the king's nephew, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, at Powick Bridge, south of Worcester. There was a short, sharp fight, a cavalry action, on 22 September, in which Rupert routed the Parliamentary forces and drove them back as far as Pershore. It was a small battle, but significant because of its effect on morale. It didn't stop Essex occupying Worcester, where he remained for three weeks. He left on 18 October, on intelligence that the king and his army were marching on London. What happened next is chronicled briefly in a local source, the Giles Geast charity account for 1643: "23 October 1642 a battle was fought near Keyton, in co. Wariwicke, where the kinge was in the fielde with duke Robert his nephew, & the Earl of Essex was generall for ye Parliament, & many hundreds were slayne on both sydes, the place called Edgehill."This, the first of the great battles of the Civil War, was indecisive. The two sides fought themselves to a standstill, but the Earl of Essex withdrew to Warwick, leaving the road to London open to the king. The Royalists then advanced as far as Twmham Green, where they came up against a numerically superior and very well equipped force, so they retired to Oxford, which became their capital. The first passage of arms of significance in Gloucestershire was the siege of Sudeley Castle, which yielded to Colonel Massey, the energetic Governor of Gloucester. He took Sudeley Castle on 29 January, after which the victorious Roundheads fell to plundering the castle, desecrating the church, digging up graves, breaking down the Chandos monuments and covering the nave with the blood and dung of beasts (according to a Royalist account). But this gain was more than outweighed by the Royalist success on 2 February when Rupert stormed Cirencester. After that, according to a Parliamentary account, the Royalist forces went into the country around the town and "tooke away all the horses, sheepe, oxen and other cattle of the well effected". They also plundered "cloth, wooll and yarn besides other goodes from the clothiers about Stroudwater". This led one Samuel Webb, a clothier, to obtain what is called a 'protection' from Prince Rupert, and another for good measure from Prince Maurice, his brother, to prevent this sort of thing happening. Giles Geast, referring to Cirencester, mentions that "1500 carried prisoner to Oxford".
In January 1644 Prince Rupert came to Tewkesbury, where he appears to have conceived a grand plan to unite the forces of Vavasour and those of Sir John Wyntour, the King's commander in the Forest of Dean, with those centred on Cirencester and Oxford, against Gloucester. His activities cut the city off from the north side, and one of the Parliamentary writers of the time complained about "the intolerable oppression of the Duke of Plunderland and his plundering Cavaliers". Vavasour made an attempt on the garrison at Boddington House, which Corbel describes very briefly: "Hither he came up with 500 foot and two pieces of ordnance, fired his gunnes against the house and engaged himself in an assault. The place was maintayned by them within til a small party drew from Gloucester, the report of which (at three miles distance) caused Colonel Vavasour to draw off and return back to Tewkesbury with the loss of eight or ten men before the house." So bare now was the countryside about Tewkesbury that the garrison had to forage as far afield as Painswick and Stroudwater to gather in supplies.
In the spring of 1644 Colonel Mynne succeeded to Vavasour's command. Colonel Mynne was a far more energetic and resolute commander than Vavasour. He was feared and respected by the Parliamentarians, and Gloucester soon came under severe pressure. In April Massey made an attempt on Mynne's garrison in Newent, which, according to a Royalist account was beaten off, though it may be significant that Colonel Mynne withdrew his men to Ross for a while, leaving Massey free to forage for supplies as far as Ledbury. Massey was also active in the Forest of Dean in May, and took the Royalist garrisons of Westbury, Little Dean and Newnham. Corbel also records an undated attempt by Massey against Tewkesbury. Unfortunately, many of Corbel's accounts are not dated, and so it is difficult to fit them into the chronology. Massey sent his foot out of the west gate of Gloucester, and his horse to rendezvous with them; but in the evening he brought his horse back through the city to the Tewkesbury road. In the meantime an advance guard had been sent to secure Upton bridge, and was advancing on the western side of the Severn. Unfortunately the foot took too long to arrive and it was an hour after sunrise when they reached the town, "when we were not fit to assault awakened and prepared enemy," Corbet writes. They withdrew to await a better opportunity, which came on 5 June 1644.
On went the first party, killed the sentinels, a pikeman and a musketeer without match, and made good the bridge; the foriome-hope rushed in, and after them a full body of horse and dragoons, fell upon the guards, came up to the maine-guard before the alarm was taken, overturned their ordnance, and charged through the streets as face as the bridge Worcester way, where they took Major Myn the governour of the towne. The enemy threw down their armes, many escaped by flight, and many were taken prisoners. Colonell Godfrey was slain in the first charge, as also Colonel Vavasour's quartermaster-generall, and a lieutenant, all papists, besides a sergeant, with about six common souldiers. Our officers and souldiers supposing themselves wholly victorious, dismounted and went into the houses, some in the vanity of their humour, others for plunder, whilst all sleighted their own guards, and the making good of the bridge at which they entered, and ne-glected the taking and disarming of the maine-guard, which lay in the heart of the towne, and cleared every street. Whereupon those at the main guard observing the horse not seconded with foot, took courage to charge some of our horse now in confusion, and many of the enemy out of the houses ran to the guard, and so strengthened it, that they issued out upon our men, put them to a retreat, beat them out of the towne, and took some few prisoners. But before they were beaten out they had cut down two drawbridges, and secured the govemour Major Myn who was passed over the Seveme with a small party that tooke him beyond the towne.By this time Colonell Massey was come up with a few horse halfe a mile in the van of the foot, which hastened after to make an assault in this instant of time. But the bridge towords Gloucester was again drawn up and the workes manned on that side; here the governor placed his company of dra-goons, and gave order to fire upon them, whilst he drew his men round the towne, it being now darke night; but before he could reach the further end, where he entered about midnight the enemy were fled towards Worcester, being daunted at the first assault made by the horse, observing withall our foot now brought up, their ovine governor lost, their officers Blaine, and most of the common soldiers already rurme away. The townsmen through feare durst not give the least intelligence of what had hapned. By which means they were past the recovery of our horse already tyred, besides the night and darke weather hindered the pursuit. Only we tooke some scattering foot, to the number of foure and twenty, with a lieutenant. Upon our entrance we found eighteen barrels of powder, left by their haste, an hundred and twenty skeyns of match, two hundred new pikes, foure and thirty large hand-granadoes, good store of musket-shot, and two brass drakes. Most of their muskets were thrown about in the fields, ditches, and rivers, many of which were afterwards found, but the place itselfe was of the greatest consequence, and worthy of the service, being now a strong frontier-town, securing that side of the county, and commanding a good part of Worcester-shire: and in the nicke of time extreamly crosse to the intentions of the king's army. The enemy confect themselves to be neer seven hundred strong, when our whole body could not reach that number. That very day Colonell Myn was to march from Hereford to ayd this town: but prevented by our possession."
Waller's luck ran out shortly after this, for he was badly beaten at the battle of Cropredy Bridge. Charles himself, after his victory there, advanced upon Tewkesbury, and his main body lay around Bredon Hill for two days, where, Corbet writes, "His Majesty being advised of the weaknesse of the place drew neere with a purpose to storme it, advanced the ordnance within a mile and sent out parties to skirmish" This proved of no avail and he withdrew. The King then marched south-west, to Cornwall, to a remarkable campaign that ended with the surrender of the Earl of Essex's army. Unfortunately for the King this was more than balanced by a major defeat in the north of England, when Rupert was defeated at the battle of Marston Moor.
Locally, there was another battle when Colonel Massey decoyed the King's forces and then destroyed them. Mynne was slain in this battle at Redmailey in August 1644. The Parliamentarians were determined not to lose Tewkesbury again; it had changed hands many times, once three times in ten days. They strengthened the fortifications and Bennett mentions that; "twenty-five men were kept at work on it. The High Street men were working on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, the Church Street men on Fridays and Saturdays, and the Barton Street men on Mondays. He quotes from the accounts of one Mr Alye in the Corporation records which show how contributions were made: "for the maintenance of the garrison, the sum of £5,206.15s.2d. for the period August 1644 to July 1645". The payments made were then detailed: "the total charge for maintaining a company weekly, £21.16s.0d.", for 80 common soldiers, a captain, a lieutenant and ensign, two sergeants, corporals and a drummer. This imposed a considerable burden upon the area.
Other indications of the burden of the war, and the general dislocation of normal life, appear in local accounts. The Geast Charity Accounts show a drop in revenue in 1643 and 1644, and the treasurer claims allowance for the rents subscribed "which we cannot receive in respect of the deadness in trade and distractions of the time". No accounts were entered by the churchwardens for 1642-43, but the receipts for the following two years are very low, £7.8s.l0d. and £6.15s.4d., compared with a normal year, when they would have been around £35.
- "Item, there was left at the decease of her said father fower bullocks, five prime and two young beastes, which were left and taken away at the time of war by the soldiers.
- Item, there was left a certayne quantity of oatswhich was taken away for the soldiers at the Garrison which was then kept at the White Cross in the parish of Lydney."